Online STI testing program reduces barriers and reaches more people on Vancouver Island

VICTORIA – A first of its kind online testing program has been successfully reaching people who are seeking testing for sexually-transmitted infections (STI) and blood borne diseases. In partnership with Island Health, the BC Centre for Disease Control’s (BCCDC) online testing program expanded to three Vancouver Island communities in 2016: Victoria, Langford, and Duncan. A recent evaluation shows the program effectively reaches people who have faced barriers to testing in the past, and those at higher risk of infection and first-time testers.

“STIs often have no signs or symptoms,” said Dr. Dee Hoyano, Medical Health Officer, Island Health. “So the only way to know if you have an STI is to get tested. GetCheckedOnline is free and makes testing more private and convenient. It’s a good way to protect your health and take care of your partners.” 

GetCheckedOnline is an internet-based service that allows people to test for sexually-transmitted and blood borne infections without needing to visit a doctor, and to get their results online.

The program first launched in 2014 in Vancouver and is the first provincial program of its kind in Canada. In March 2016, GetCheckedOnline was expanded to Victoria, Langford and Duncan within the Island Health region, and Kamloops and Nelson within Interior Health.

An evaluation of the first 18-months shows GetCheckedOnline has had success in Vancouver Island communities:
• 947 test episodes were conducted through GetCheckedOnline during this 18-month period.
• 22% of all positive diagnoses through GetCheckedOnline were at Island Health. 
• One in five people over the age of 30 reported testing for STI/HIV for the first time. 
• 67% of people using GetCheckedOnline identify as male.
• GetCheckedOnline is reaching people on Vancouver Island who have a higher risk of infection:
        o 40% of clients reported having condomless sex;
        o 25% of clients reported having four-or-more sexual partners;
        o 12% of clients reported having a previous STI diagnosis in the past year.

Research studies conducted by the BCCDC have shown that users of GetCheckedOnline are more likely to have experienced challenges with accessing traditional testing services, such as long wait times for appointments, difficulty getting to a clinic, shame around testing or fear of judgement from healthcare providers. In a survey, 94% of GetCheckedOnline clients in Island Health were satisfied or very satisfied with their testing experience and 97% said they would use the service again.

“GetCheckedOnline helps people take control of their sexual health,” said Dr. Mark Gilbert, GetCheckedOnline’s medical lead with the BCCDC. “There are a number of reasons why people don’t test – it could be clinic hours or wait times, stigma, or embarrassment talking about sex with their doctor. GetCheckedOnline helps break down those barriers and makes it easier for people to test.”

Next steps

Discussions about further expanding GetCheckedOnline on Vancouver Island are underway. Dr. Gilbert and his team were recently awarded a $2-million grant from Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The five-year grant will be used to evaluate the continued scale-up of GetCheckedOnline in BC, how its usability could be improved including translation into multiple languages, and to assess how it could be implemented in Toronto. The team is international in scope and includes researchers, public health, clinicians and community organizations from across BC and Ontario.

About Get Checked Online

• GetCheckedOnline is the first online service in Canada that offers confidential testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis C.
• The program was developed by the BCCDC in partnership with the BC Public Health Laboratory, and now works in collaboration with regional health authorities and LifeLabs.
• From September 2014 to January 2018, 6,110 tests have been completed in BC, and 1,416 tests have been completed on Vancouver Island since the launch in March 2016.
• Clients visit the website, create an account, answer a sexual history questionnaire and generate a laboratory requisition. They then go to a participating LifeLabs location in their community to give specimens, and are notified by email when their results are ready. If all results are negative, they can be viewed online. Clients with positive or inconclusive results will be contacted by a BCCDC nurse to arrange follow-up and appropriate treatment. 
• GetCheckedOnline is an extension of the BCCDC’s clinical services arm for sexually transmitted infections and has undergone rigorous reviews to safeguard privacy, security and confidentiality.

Learn More

• See the Expansion Outcomes infographic for more information about GCO in Island Health, Interior Health, and across British Columbia.
• Smart Sex Resource
• Get Checked Online
• BCCDC Reportable Disease Dashboard

Island Health, one of six health jurisdictions in British Columbia, provides health care and support services to more than 765,000 people on Vancouver Island, the islands in the Salish Sea and the Johnstone Strait, and mainland communities north of Powell River.

With more than 20,000 staff, 1,900 physician partners, 6,000 volunteers, and the dedicated support of foundations and auxiliaries, Island Health delivers a broad range of health services, including: public health services, primary health care, home and community care, mental health and addictions services, acute care in hospitals, and much more across a huge, geographically diverse region.

The BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides public health leadership through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services. The Centre provides diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance, and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities. The BCCDC also provides health promotion and prevention services to reduce the burden of chronic disease and preventable injury. For more, visit www.bccdc.ca  or follow us on Twitter @CDCofBC.

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit www.phsa.ca or follow us on Twitter @PHSAofBC.

Media inquiries:

Jennifer Parisi
250.818.6397
jennifer.parisi@viha.ca